It takes a village to build a theater. That's the lesson folks at Cabot School have learned in the three years since they hatched the idea to build a performing arts center on campus. Construction of the 2800-square-foot black-box theater will start next month.
The need for a bigger classroom for the rapidly expanding music program at the small public school was the driving force behind the center, says Brian Boyes, 34, the school's music teacher. "Students were sharing seats," he explains.
But after voters rejected a bond proposal to fund the building, school officials realized they needed to cut costs in order to make the project a reality. They tapped into the greatest asset the town of about 1200 has: its people. A local architect agreed to draw up the plans for next to nothing. The building design was kept basic - with a large classroom/performance space and two adjoining rooms that can be used as both backstage space and practice areas - so that students and residents could help with the labor.
School officials estimated they could raise $75,000 for the project through grassroots fundraising efforts. And in March, town voters approved a plan to fund the remaining $75,000 through a one-year increase in property taxes.
Cabot School has found creative ways to raise its share of the cash, from raffle dinners prepared by local chefs to email campaigns. "Heavy hitters" such as local businesses Cabot Creamery and Zutano have also kicked in with support. To date, the school has amassed about $45,000. A gala at Vermont Technical Center in Randolph on July 26 that includes a silent and live auction and a performance by a 17-piece big band will, Boyes hopes, raise another 10 to 20 grand.
The music program at Cabot is no stranger to innovation. Boyes, a professional trumpeter who has worked in several bands, came to the school 10 years ago and has created a world-music program in which students can learn African drumming, as well as unique high school electives such as film scoring. He also directs The Limes, a high school/college-level all-star soul-funk ensemble. "I approach the program as if it's an artistic project," says Boyes. What he's doing seems to be working. More than 65 percent of Cabot 4th- to 12th-graders choose to participate in instrumental music, compared with 40 percent in similar Vermont K-12 schools.
Boyes says he also tries to create real-world experiences for his students - which they will no doubt get this school year. Industrial-arts students will work alongside contractors - many of them community members who have pledged their services at a reduced cost - to do everything from electrical wiring to plumbing. Eventually, Boyes says, Cabot School will offer an elective in which students learn how to manage the theater and book outside acts.
When the performing arts center is complete - in time for the school's spring concert, it's hoped - Boyes envisions it as not just a "laboratory where students can experiment with music" but also a great asset to a community in which "the school is the heartbeat of the town."